National City-Born Author 'Stunned And Humbled' By Newbery Medal
The San Diego State graduate is the first Latino to win the prestigious children's literature award.
"Last Stop on Market Street" is about a young African-American boy who rides the bus with his grandmother and questions why his family doesn't own a car.
De la Peña told KPBS Midday Edition that the book touches on themes of both race and class. He said someone asked him recently if the book would have been different if his characters were white.
"I had to say, I think it could be just as powerful, but I think it would be a different story," he said. "I think race factors in, but for me when I was writing the story, I definitely thought class was the most important issue in the book."
He said the characters are African-American because the illustrator, Christian Robinson, is African-American "and that's the way he envisioned it."
De la Peña said his book was informed in part by his grandmother, who passed away a few years ago.
"She had very few words, but she was always there. She had such a tough life, but there was a wisdom in her silences," he said.
The author was raised in National City, but got a basketball scholarship to attend a private college with students from wealthier families. He then attended San Diego State University.
"I definitely got a chip on my shoulder, thinking why do other people have more than me," he said. "But I think I've come full circle now, and I view the way I was raised as probably one of the best things that's ever happened to me."
In a statement after receiving his award, De la Peña said:
“I am humbled beyond words that 'Last Stop on Market Street' has been awarded the 2016 Newbery Medal, placing it alongside so many seminal works, which have long inspired my path as an author. It’s important to me that Last Stop’s illustrator, Christian Robinson, share in this honor as this is a picture book, and from the very beginning I’ve felt that his wonderful illustrations make this book what it is.
"I also want to acknowledge what a privilege it is to be the first Latino male author to receive the Newbery Medal. I hope all the brilliant Hispanic writers of the past and present view this as a recognition or our diverse community and that it inspires young Hispanics coming up to read their way through the world and consider a path in the arts."